Documentary – Matte Painting by Motion Truck
Our documentary is an episode of a hypothetical web format that we called “WTF”.
WTF wants to teach his audience about an aspect of the movie world, trying to show…wtf is the chosen aspect of the week.
This episode is focused on matte painting, a technique that allows you to create environments or background elements that you can’t film in the real world.
The aim of this format is to pass important notions without being serious so that the audience doesn’t get bored and switch to next video during the first 5 seconds.
The hope is to give enough technical details to encourage the viewers to search more about the topic of the week but not enough to make them fall asleep.
Humour and stunning visuals taken from all kind of movies are the trick to do that, with a little help from a few upbeat songs.
We divided our cover of Matte Painting in different sections:
WHY SHOULD WE DO IT?
Matte painting was born for two main reasons: either you want to show a fantasy landscape that doesn’t exist or you need to overcome monetary issues and avoid moving your set to some exotic locations.
WHO DID IT FIRST?
The man who was credited with the invention of matte painting is Norman Dawn, who made some set extensions back in 1905 and then, for the first time in a movie, in 1907 with “Missions of California”.
He used black tape to cover some parts of his shot while he filmed a live-action scene, then he filmed some paintings and photos placed on a large sheet of glass and finally he mixed the two together.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTOR
Working for films means working quickly, so it’s pointless to paint something that nobody would notice.
As you can realize taking a look at the work of matte artist Albert Whitlock you don’t need to paint every little detail to make a perfect painting if you take into account the limitations of the camera and the human eye.
To quote Mr. Whitlock: “The sky is the key of the all picture, if you get that correct in colour and tone than it’s all believable.”
We analyzed the scene of the Ewoks dance in Star Wars: Return of The Jedi, where a thorough backstage was available showing the artists and the equipment involved in the scene.
Since the scene lasted a little over 3 seconds, the painting was photographed 78 times. Black screens were placed behind the holes in the painting and then removed one by one. Each was filled with a live-action of the Ewoks dancing, inserted in the scenery with a projector, one hole at a time.
The camera was rewound three times to be exposed again, one for each live-action.
This time the painting was all black and they filmed only the frames of action, so that they were added to the image of the painting already on the film.
THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION
Matte painting changed with the new technologies, making possible an easier integration between this effect and other compositing techniques.
A matte painting, whether is made of paintings, photos or both, is now made with an image-editing software like Photoshop, which makes it much simpler to mix it in a scene with 3D models, virtual camera movements and all those things they make Game of Thrones with.
The end of the documentary is a glorious matte painting, gently provided by Alfred Whitlock in the (almost) final shot of The History of the World Part I by Mel Brooks.